Pharyngeal Gag Reflex

If you are a pet owner (especially of a small dog or brachycephalic animal with a squished face) you will probably have seen and heard the pharyngeal gag reflex in action. It is also known as “reverse sneezing”. When you first hear it, it sort of makes you panic and think your dog is about to fall over dead. The true cause of this an irritation of the soft palate which leads to a spasm. In this process, the dog will extend its neck and its lungs will expand in an attempt to get more air through the now more narrow trachea.


According to causes can include:

  • excitement
  • eating or drinking
  • exercise intolerance
  • pulling on a leash
  • mites
  • pollen
  • foreign bodies caught in the throat
  • perfumes
  • viruses
  • household chemicals
  • allergies
  • post-nasal drip

This condition rarely needs treatment. Massaging the throat can sometimes help (which I have done with my dog) as well as depressing the tongue or even just taking the dog outside if the irritant is around the house.

Cats experience this behavior less, but the cause may be feline asthma rather than a reverse sneeze.

Here’s a little Yorkie displaying a pharyngeal gag reflex:



VMCAS Deadline Countdown: 24 days


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